Moran was born in England but moved to the United States in the mid-1840s. At 16, Thomas was apprenticed to a wood-engraver. The young Moran sketched and painted and taught himself to paint. Moran’s older brother Edward, also a painter, shared a studio with him. In 1861, the two went to England. After a short period back in America, the Morans went back to Europe in 1866 for another period of study. Moran exhibited two paintings in the 1867 Universal Exhibition in Paris.
On the family’s return home, Moran tagged along on a U.S. government expedition to the Yellowstone. He filled his sketchbook and, on his return, used the sketches to illustrate an 1871 article for Scribner’s Monthly. Moran expanded his sketches to create a 7-by-12-foot painting, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Magazines continued to send Moran west on assignments.
In the late 1870s enormous landscapes fell out of favor. In the 1880s, Moran’s taste shifted as he embraced the new fashion for small, quiet landscapes.